Identifying your most able pupils

Posted by Ewa Jozefkowicz on Oct 18, 2019 9:18:55 AM


Catering for the learning needs of all the children in the class can pose a challenge to teachers. Just as there will be pupils who require extra support, there are those who are more able and need to be stretched in their lessons. It's up to you to define who your 'most able' pupils are. In this blog post, we offer guidance on how to identify these pupils, including the common characteristics of more able learners. We also offer examples of strategies from two primary schools. 

How to identify the 'most able' pupils

There are no statutory policies or guidelines on identifying the most able pupils, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

You can develop your own methods for identifying these pupils. 

The National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE) explains that identifying the most able pupils: "... is a complex matter and is a whole school issue which should be discussed and agreed by all staff. It is important to encompass a range of methods which looks beyond test results and teacher assessment."

Popular methods and good practice

Popular methods for identifying the most able pupils include:

  • Teacher/staff nomination
  • Checklists
  • Testing achievement, potential and curriculum ability
  • Assessment of children's work
  • Peer nomination
  • Parental information
  • Discussions with children/young people
  • Using community resources

Identification methods differ between age phases and between different subjects.

You are likely to obtain the best results by drawing on a wide range of information sources.

This information is set out in guidance on identifying gifted and talented learners published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, a predecessor to the DfE.

Guidance from the (now decommissioned) Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) suggests good practice when identifying the most able children, such as:

  • Observing pupils systematically in a range of learning contexts to identify those who demonstrate social or leadership skills, an aptitude for problem-solving or acute listening skills
  • Inviting pupils to reflect on their own strengths, interests and aspirations
  • Noting the progress pupils make and judging whether they achieve beyond the level of attainment expected for their age
  • Noting the initiative used by pupils in tackling tasks or adapting conditions to suit circumstances

Characteristics of pupils with high learning potential

Potential Plus UK, a charity that supports children with high learning potential, identifies some characteristics that the most able children may share characteristics, but each should display a majority. These include:

  • The ability to learn quickly
  • A rich vocabulary
  • A long attention span
  • Showing compassion, and moral sensitivity
  • Questioning authority
  • Keen observers and a vivid imagination

The above characteristics are taken from American research. Those characteristics that were endorsed by 90% or 80% of parents of children with 'exceptionally gifted children' are explained in more detail on pages 3-7.

Exercise caution when using checklists of characteristics. Not all of the most able pupils will fit these expectations, according to guidance on gifted and talented learners from the QCA. It is possible that certain pupils will not fit some or all of the characteristics commonly associated with more able pupils.

Examples: primary schools

Mudeford Junior School in Dorset explains on page 2 of its most able and gifted pupil policy that it uses an “awareness raising checklist of characteristics” as one of its methods for identifying the most able pupils.

The checklist, taken from Dorset County Council's policy for very able and gifted pupils, identifies characteristics such as:

  • Being persistent, resourceful, self-directed
  • Showing high level of sensitivity and/or empathy
  • Exhibiting unusually extroverted or introverted behaviour within a group

The school also uses SATs results and teacher assessments to inform judgements.

The more able and talented policy of Micklands Primary School in Reading refers to a more able and talented lead and an assessment lead, who are both involved in its implementation. On page 1, it explains how more able pupils will be identified by:

  • Class teachers using prior attainment and current performance
  • The more able and talented lead and the assessment lead using termly attainment and progress data

Pupils may also be identified as more able through discussions with parents and their peers.

The school explains that:

Pupils will not be referred to as more able or talented per se, but rather as being more able or talented in a particular area, or areas.

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Topics: most able pupils